Political Correctness: A Branding Problem

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By Liv Jordan

I am a born-and-raised New Yorker, a 19-year-old, a daughter of two professors, and a student at a predominantly liberal city college. One would be safe to assume that I am one of “those” millennials, the kind liberals and conservatives alike blame for ruining the world of comedy, politics, and essentially all the best parts of society. Modern bigots would call me a “snowflake.” I believe in basic human decency, and respect. People should be able to be whoever they want to be. I also believe in free speech and I think that people should be able to say whatever they want to say whether it offends me or not.

To an extent, I agree with the Bill Mahers of the world—the curmudgeonly old White men who think political correctness has gone so far that it taints liberalism. Perhaps we define the term “political correctness” too broadly. What is wrong with protecting vulnerable groups from hate speech and the dissemination of ignorant stereotypes? When people blame an intolerant “PC Culture” for the pushback that they receive when they preach intolerance, their hypocrisy is destructive to society. While people hold the constitutional right to say whatever they want, we ought to observe the unwritten “don’t-be-an-asshole” clause. Conservatives monopolize the term “political correctness” in a way that allows them to reframe their own sensitivities to opposition from the left as an “attack” on their free speech.

Critics of political correctness have a case when it comes to people—youths—attempting to censor opinions that they oppose. We saw this type of emotional response in the violent student protests against the appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley and Charles Murray at Middlebury College. Bill Maher’s late-night show Real Time received criticism for allowing Yiannopoulos to appear on the show and allowing him to spread vitriol and bigotry. Critics of political correctness view these responses as a stubborn intolerance for views that bring us outside our comfort zones. We must challenge our preconceived notions if we want to grow, and the learning process requires a level of discomfort.

Let me be clear: I do not want Milo Yiannopoulos—a well-dressed, human YouTube comments section, to come to my school. He poses a threat to members of the student body. The safety of students must be the first priority and hateful actions are much more dangerous than hateful ideas. A decent society necessitates that we hear from people who say things we don’t like so we know where to draw our boundaries.

I never heard Milo speak before I watched him on Bill Maher’s show. As a card-carrying member of the snowflake brigade I was obliged to hate him. While his nonsensical sputtering didn’t do much to challenge my preconceived notions, he convinced me that he is an attention-seeking troll—albeit one with masterfully highlighted hair.

While people my generation need to engage with opinions that differ from their own, the vilification of young liberals and millennials as a whole is unfair and unproductive in combatting the perceived negative effects of political correctness on our society. At its core, political correctness protects people—a noble and an important notion. That natural empathy can ensure that future generations will be less hateful and bigoted than previous ones. Efforts to make language more inclusive and to shed light on microaggressions stem from a well-intentioned place. Millennials grew up hearing stories about kids killing themselves because of bullying. We heard about the bigotry of our elders and wanted to be different. No child of the 90s came out of the womb waging a war on humor and vowing to introduce a bunch of new words to trick the elderly. Empathy can be a powerful tool … not a sign of weakness.

We need to realize that there are “snowflakes” on both sides of the ideological spectrum, as evidenced by the fact that the most prominent spokesman for the White House can’t cope with being spoofed on Saturday Night Live. Blaming the socially conscious youth for Trump’s victory weakens the appearance of the left while ignoring the hypocrisy of the right—a branding problem that must be addressed.